Mom Guilt: The Saga of Sunscreen and Unicorn Moms


Sunscreen broke me today. Yep, you heard right—SUNSCREEN. Let me set the scene for you. I was at the pool with my family. Within a few moments of finding a seat, I  caught a glimpse of what I call a unicorn mom. Do you know the type? Perfect hair, perfect snacks, and a perfectly positioned toddler on her lap. She was applying sunscreen on her son’s face. He was helping, and they were chatting about why sunscreen was necessary. And right then and there I had a full-on (ugly) cry.  

It all started two hours earlier when I was chasing my 19-month old daughter around our house in tears (plural as in everyone was crying). I was begging her to let me apply sunscreen. She was screaming. I was sweating. I smeared a bit on her face before she bobbed and weaved her way into the bathroom for cover. It required a two-man offense and way too much time to finish the job. And in the end, I only managed to apply the good stuff to her face, ears, and upper arms. I sprayed (and by sprayed yes—I mean with an aerosol can) the rest on her as she waddled into the pool area. The sunscreen ordeal followed the original crisis, which was of course putting the swimsuit on. You see, my girl is an “I-do-it” girl. She wants to dress herself, brush her hair, and loathes assistance. Admittedly, I love that about her. But from one mom to another— ain’t nobody got time for that.  

After all of that, we finally made it to the pool. Feeling defeated, I let out a sigh only a  mom will understand. And then I saw her—the unicorn mom and her perfectly positioned toddler. As my eyes filled with tears, my mind filled with something worse—mom guilt. “What am I doing wrong? Does my daughter hate me? Am I a terrible mother? What if the sunscreen was in her eye and that’s why she was so upset; OMG, she might be going blind? This is not an exaggeration. This was my literal stream of consciousness at that moment.  

I understand that the above woman (i.e. me) sounds like a lunatic. The rational, college-educated, grown woman part of my brain gets it. But the mom part of my brain empathizes with it. So instead of letting this moment ruin pool day, I hit pause.  

In my house, we call it “holding space.” It’s a verb of sorts; one that my husband pokes fun at me for naming. Here’s the gist of it—when you are angry/upset/insert intense emotion, but you do not want to ruin/take over/leave the current present, you hold space for the emotion and come back to it.  

Later in the evening, I came back to the breakdown. I sat with my feelings of inadequacy and frustration. With a clearer mind, I asked myself “was this really about sunscreen and unicorn moms?” 

Spoiler alert, the answer is no. It was about guilt. I felt guilty that I was failing as a mom at that moment. 

I wish I could tell you that I cured my mom guilt right then and there. That I never got frustrated again, and that Scarlett happily brings me the sunscreen bottle now. But that would be a lie. I struggle with mom guilt daily. But I am embracing the struggle and learning from it.

I have learned to listen to myself more. 

I have learned to ignore the external influences that contradict what I want for my family.

I have learned that some days my toddler refuses to put pants on, and that’s okay. 

But most importantly—I have learned to embrace the chaos.

Some days will be exceptional, some days will be exhausting, and some days you will ugly cry at a public pool.